Racism and Colorblindness | Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat

My name is Fr. Armel Setubi and I am with The Jesuit Post. This is Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat, a series in which we are journeying together into a deeper awareness of how racism operates in our lives, and how we can start to eradicate it.

But first, let us begin with a prayer.

“What is your skin color oh Lord?”
Lord you created us to your image and likeness and yet I wonder what your skin color is!
Lord you made us just a bit less than you, and I wonder, what is your race?
Are you Black, Yellow, White, Brown?
Give me Lord the grace to have a deeper insight into what your race, or your skin color might mean.
Lord open the eyes of my heart to see who you truly are, Amen.  

Today we want to wrap up our meditation on sin, specifically on the sin of racism. What I’m going to tell you might be shocking but, did you know race is a concept we could live without? Do you know that things like race and skin colors do not exist the way we think they exist? Has it ever occurred to you that to be Black, White or Brown or a person of color is a total construction that cannot account for the totality of our being human? Race is a social construct originally framed to create hard boundaries that could not be crossed by people of different skin color and for the purpose of segregation. “Black”, Indigenous, and “People of Color” (BIPOC) are still discriminated against and abused because of the color of their skin. 

Among the Swahili people of East and Central Africa, what is referred to as a Black person in the Western world is “Muntu” which means person, and what is referred to as a white person is a “Mzungu” which means explorer or a person that speaks English! Hence, the Swahili people never perceived human beings primarily in terms of their skin color, but instead identified people with what they do and where they are from. Black and white are simply not part of their worldview, and yet they can conceptualize people without appealing to skin color. Did you know that in many parts of the world where you have people with different skin tones, fields for race or skin color do not exist when you fill a form or apply for a job, for a school, etc.? Generally, it’s due to the fact that in those countries, race or skin color is not an important factor in the way they conceive of their society or identify individuals. Race is a social construct. Race was abusively imposed as a biological determinant of skin color. Nevertheless, we must not fall into the tarp of colorblindness as it prevents one from seeing the suffering of “BIPOC” members. We cannot afford to be colorblind.   

My experience of evil and by extension sin, is that there are two sorts of evils: natural and man-made. A tornado that destroys a house or gets people injured is a natural evil, but racism is man-made evil. It starts with a segregating concept, then the rationalization of that concept which serves as the basis for evil intentions and sinful actions. With time that sin becomes so common that people think it’s normal. When you decide to kneel on the neck of a fellow human being until death follows, it’s man-made evil, when you red-line entire neighborhoods so as to bar people from accessing federal resources and loans, it’s man-made evil, when you actively or tacitly participate in police violence, and in institutionalized racism, it’s man-made evil. When you remain silent in front of racism, it’s man-made evil. Now the big difference between these two categories of evil is that natural evil cannot be completely prevented by human beings, but man-made evil is like an infectious disease that can be treated, and prevented.

St. Ignatius of Loyola has a peculiar way to make us reflect and make decisions about sin. He asks us to let ourselves be seized with amazement and consider how frail and vulnerable we are due to our sins even though, in God’s goodness, God continues to sustain our life. In the same circumstances, Ignatius proposes that we should reflect and see what we have done for God, what we do for God now, and what we plan to do for God.

So, the threefold question remains actual as we conclude our meditation on sin.

  1. What have you done to fight against the sin of racism, whether you have been a victim, an active perpetrator, or a silent complicit person?
  2. What are you doing now to fight against the sin of racism?
  3. What do you plan to do against the sin of racism?

To help you ponder these questions I highly recommend that you read and meditate on the piece by Nikole Hannah-Jones “What Is Owed” published in The New York Times Magazine of June 28, 2020. Take time to see how the Lord speaks to you about racism through the piece by Hannah-Jones. 

  • Let yourself be immersed in the history of racism in our country and how it continues to kill what is humane in our hearts up to this day. Meditate on how race is a construction that could be otherwise and ask yourself what you have done and what you do now to uproot racism, whether you are a victim, a perpetrator or a silent observer. 
  • Alongside Hannah-Jones’ piece I invite you to consider the Gospel of Luke 19:1-10 which talks about the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus.
    • When Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, he decided to abandon his former life and to repent. More importantly, Zacchaeus made some reparation to heal those he had offended.  In contemplating the actions and decisions of Zacchaeus during his meeting with Jesus, ask yourself the third question: what will I do to prevent the sin of racism in me and to fight racism in society, and bring about genuine reparation?
    • Reflect on how God is without skin color or race. Realize that the true race of God is pure love and that we’re all called to participate in such a pure love.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed by thy name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
One earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day,
Our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Amen.

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Racism and Colorblindness | Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat

My name is Fr. Armel Setubi and I am with The Jesuit Post. This is Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat, a series in which we are journeying together into a deeper awareness of how racism operates in our lives, and how we can start to eradicate it.

But first, let us begin with a prayer.

“What is your skin color oh Lord?”
Lord you created us to your image and likeness and yet I wonder what your skin color is!
Lord you made us just a bit less than you, and I wonder, what is your race?
Are you Black, Yellow, White, Brown?
Give me Lord the grace to have a deeper insight into what your race, or your skin color might mean.
Lord open the eyes of my heart to see who you truly are, Amen.  

Today we want to wrap up our meditation on sin, specifically on the sin of racism. What I’m going to tell you might be shocking but, did you know race is a concept we could live without? Do you know that things like race and skin colors do not exist the way we think they exist? Has it ever occurred to you that to be Black, White or Brown or a person of color is a total construction that cannot account for the totality of our being human? Race is a social construct originally framed to create hard boundaries that could not be crossed by people of different skin color and for the purpose of segregation. “Black”, Indigenous, and “People of Color” (BIPOC) are still discriminated against and abused because of the color of their skin. 

Among the Swahili people of East and Central Africa, what is referred to as a Black person in the Western world is “Muntu” which means person, and what is referred to as a white person is a “Mzungu” which means explorer or a person that speaks English! Hence, the Swahili people never perceived human beings primarily in terms of their skin color, but instead identified people with what they do and where they are from. Black and white are simply not part of their worldview, and yet they can conceptualize people without appealing to skin color. Did you know that in many parts of the world where you have people with different skin tones, fields for race or skin color do not exist when you fill a form or apply for a job, for a school, etc.? Generally, it’s due to the fact that in those countries, race or skin color is not an important factor in the way they conceive of their society or identify individuals. Race is a social construct. Race was abusively imposed as a biological determinant of skin color. Nevertheless, we must not fall into the tarp of colorblindness as it prevents one from seeing the suffering of “BIPOC” members. We cannot afford to be colorblind.   

My experience of evil and by extension sin, is that there are two sorts of evils: natural and man-made. A tornado that destroys a house or gets people injured is a natural evil, but racism is man-made evil. It starts with a segregating concept, then the rationalization of that concept which serves as the basis for evil intentions and sinful actions. With time that sin becomes so common that people think it’s normal. When you decide to kneel on the neck of a fellow human being until death follows, it’s man-made evil, when you red-line entire neighborhoods so as to bar people from accessing federal resources and loans, it’s man-made evil, when you actively or tacitly participate in police violence, and in institutionalized racism, it’s man-made evil. When you remain silent in front of racism, it’s man-made evil. Now the big difference between these two categories of evil is that natural evil cannot be completely prevented by human beings, but man-made evil is like an infectious disease that can be treated, and prevented.

St. Ignatius of Loyola has a peculiar way to make us reflect and make decisions about sin. He asks us to let ourselves be seized with amazement and consider how frail and vulnerable we are due to our sins even though, in God’s goodness, God continues to sustain our life. In the same circumstances, Ignatius proposes that we should reflect and see what we have done for God, what we do for God now, and what we plan to do for God.

So, the threefold question remains actual as we conclude our meditation on sin.

  1. What have you done to fight against the sin of racism, whether you have been a victim, an active perpetrator, or a silent complicit person?
  2. What are you doing now to fight against the sin of racism?
  3. What do you plan to do against the sin of racism?

To help you ponder these questions I highly recommend that you read and meditate on the piece by Nikole Hannah-Jones “What Is Owed” published in The New York Times Magazine of June 28, 2020. Take time to see how the Lord speaks to you about racism through the piece by Hannah-Jones. 

  • Let yourself be immersed in the history of racism in our country and how it continues to kill what is humane in our hearts up to this day. Meditate on how race is a construction that could be otherwise and ask yourself what you have done and what you do now to uproot racism, whether you are a victim, a perpetrator or a silent observer. 
  • Alongside Hannah-Jones’ piece I invite you to consider the Gospel of Luke 19:1-10 which talks about the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus.
    • When Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, he decided to abandon his former life and to repent. More importantly, Zacchaeus made some reparation to heal those he had offended.  In contemplating the actions and decisions of Zacchaeus during his meeting with Jesus, ask yourself the third question: what will I do to prevent the sin of racism in me and to fight racism in society, and bring about genuine reparation?
    • Reflect on how God is without skin color or race. Realize that the true race of God is pure love and that we’re all called to participate in such a pure love.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed by thy name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
One earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day,
Our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Amen.

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Mundane Racism | Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat

Welcome to Day 2 of Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat. My name is Jorge Roque, and I’m with The Jesuit Post. In this series, we are journeying together into a deeper awareness of how racism and white supremacy operate in our lives.

Let’s begin with a short prayer:

Lord Jesus, guide us into a deeper awareness of the sin of the world, specifically the sin of racism. Give us eyes to see, Lord, so that we may configure ourselves to you. Amen.

At this point in the retreat, we’re letting our hearts be pricked by the sin of racism in the world. And while the last talk you heard by Ángel focused on the long history of white supremacy, what I ask you to consider is how racism and white superiority are active in ways that are covert and quite mundane. 

White superiority is often identified with white supremacy, with a public, grotesque, and violent political ideology. And while the most extreme forms of white supremacy are still alive and scary, racism isn’t just limited to them. Believing in the superiority of white people doesn’t have to be a subterranean, terrorist ideology. It can manifest itself simply as a cultural expectation for white people to perform better, be more spiritual, be more beautiful, and more successful. And it is especially active when we normalize how white people in the country possess a higher standard of living than others.  

On this note, I remember a Facebook post I saw in high school. I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas where 95% of the population is Latino. And a classmate of mine, who is white, posed this question on social media: are some races smarter than others? Another student, also white and fairly successful, wrote, “Honestly? Yes. There are.” No specific groups of people were named but obviously the implication was that Anglo-whites as a group are smarter than Latinos. Yes, they were just high school kids on social media, not covert white supremacists. But that’s the point. Something as innocuous as a Facebook post was the arena for them to state their belief in white superiority, a belief they had already assimilated and started to perpetuate by high school. And that belief didn’t come from nowhere. 

If we limit discussions of racism to instances of racialized violence, then that means no one has to do the work of examining their conscience and confessing their sin. I must always examine my conscience and confess my sin. If I see racism as something that belongs to those people over there, I won’t examine myself. So if you want to be devoted to the work of anti-racism, then you have the difficult task of examining yourself, which takes emotional and spiritual work. And claiming that you’re an anti-racist without unflinching self-honesty would be like claiming that you’re Catholic but never participating in the Church’s sacramental life. 

Mark Seitz, the Bishop of El Paso, put out a wonderful letter on racism by the name of “Night Will Be No More,” a response to the matanza, or shooting, on August 3, 2019 that killed 22 people. In the letter, he encourages us to contemplate the mystery of evil, “which includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color.” In other words, we need to contemplate the everyday ways racism and the belief in white superiority are alive, precisely because we need to contemplate the mystery of sin. I strongly recommend you read Bishop Seitz’s pastoral letter; it would facilitate a deeper immersion into the retreat. 

I’d like to share another story. In one of the border towns in Texas, a truck exuding noxious gases that would drive by the grade school of a poor community. Activists fought to have the route of the truck changed and told a public official “you wouldn’t want this for your kids.” To which the official responded, “you’re right: I wouldn’t want this for my kids. But I’m still going to rule against you.”  

For whom was the higher standard of living reserved? For whom was the better education and safer school reserved? For whom was the clean air reserved? Who had an easier time breathing? 

Was the public official an overt white supremacist? Probably not. But he nevertheless tolerated injustice, even when the local community was saying, “our kids are in danger.” While there may not be any official laws that explicitly reserve privileges for those lighter skin, the reality is that racism is still operative. While racism can be harbored unconsciously in ways that are mundane, it can have repercussions in public policies that affect not just one person but an entire community.

So as you pray with the ugliness of the sin of racism, let it scandalize you. I recommend for your prayer:

  1. The lament over Jerusalem found in Matthew 23:37-39. Christ called us to personally repent and believe in the Kingdom of God. But Jerusalem, this beloved city, did not. What Jesus sees as he overlooks Jerusalem is Israel’s capital killing its own prophets, eventually killing the Son of the very God they profess. In this passage Jesus grieves the sin of the world. And if we personally desire the peace and justice proper to the kingdom of God, then seeing the ubiquity and ugliness of racism leaves us with grief. The grace you’re praying for here is abhorrence and repulsion in the face of racism.
  2. I also recommend you read all of chapter 23 of Matthew’s Gospel, which concludes with the lament over Jerusalem. You’ll find what’s called the “seven woes,” when Christ condemns the Pharisees as he names their sin. I think those woes apply to the sin of racism in American history. But even more to the point, it would be good to ask yourself, how is Jesus calling me out.

I want to end with a poem. Because we need to feel in our prayer what it is that sin puts to death, who it is that racism puts to death. This is a poem by Ross Gay, called “A Small Needful Fact.” 

A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

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When COVID Cancelled My Plans, God Showed Up in A Scarf

On a bitterly cold Thursday night in February of 2019, I was sitting on the ground hanging out with a group of folks experiencing homelessness down by the Chicago Art Institute. I spent most Thursdays this way, as chaplain to the student-run Labre Homeless ministry. Despite the bitter cold, we laughed a lot. After a particularly icy burst of wind rushed through, one of the men, named Wiz, looked at me and said “Gimme a scarf.” The students always bring a bag of donations with them, so I looked toward the student holding the clothing and asked if she had a scarf.

“No,” Wiz corrected me, pointing at my neck, “I want that scarf.”

I froze and not because of the temperature.

The scarf I was wearing was not just any old piece of fabric, but a gift from one of my dearest friends. Carlos was a pivotal figure in my young adult life, sort of surrogate parent. He had picked up the scarf for me on a trip to Europe and asked about it every time I saw him. It had become a tangible sign of our deep friendship, a totem of his abiding love for me.

And Carlos was dying. A rare cancer diagnosis meant I wouldn’t have many more chances to see him, so at first I didn’t think I could give up the scarf. I needed that physical reminder of his presence. For thirty seconds, I wrestled with whether or not I could bear to lose it.

But Carlos had given it to me out of love, and I really loved Wiz. Maybe I didn’t need it as much as he did on that terribly cold night. Taking off the scarf, I handed it to him saying, “this was a gift from a really good friend. I need you to pray for him.”

Jake and Wiz and the scarf.

I took a photo of the two of us to send to Carlos.

When I returned to Chicago in August of 2019, I gathered again with the students from Labre. As we shared our summer vacation stories, Akshita, one of the student leaders, presented gifts to each of us. Turning to me, she said, “I know you gave away your scarf, so I got you a new one.”

I was taken aback by the gift, surprised that she had remembered. Only days before, I had been with Carlos back at his favorite bar in New York. He was getting noticeably weaker, so even thinking about him brought tears to my eyes. I examined the new scarf with slight trepidation. It wasn’t quite as warm as the one I had given Wiz, so I couldn’t wear it on the coldest nights. It’s beauty stunned me, though, bright reds and blues with a rainbow fringe.

It took a few weeks before this new scarf found a home in my room. First, I draped it over my desk chair, but it fell too frequently. It moved from my prayer chair, to my bed, and over the door, finally settling on a chair that didn’t get much use but was angled to show off the scarf’s colors. It became part of the furniture.

Then, just a few weeks into lockdown in Chicago, I got an early morning call. After months of anticipation, Carlos had died peacefully overnight. I was devastated, and spent much of the next few days crying. I had expected his death. What I hadn’t expected, though, was that I’d be stuck in quarantine when it happened.

As I watched him get sick, I had taken some comfort in planning out my trip to the funeral. I knew where I’d stay, and who I’d spend time with, and the Broadway show I’d try to see to cheer me up. Suddenly, everything was cancelled. There would be no public funeral, no gathering of close friends at his favorite bar, and certainly no therapeutic musical comedy. Instead, I’d mostly be stuck in my room remembering all he’d been for me.

The coronavirus destroyed my grief plans. 

I scrolled through old photos of us, and came upon the one of me and Wiz and the scarf. I started to cry again and began wiping my eyes. I realized with a jolt that I was using the scarf Akshita had given me.

So, the scarf became my grief plan.

As I prayed and mourned, I wrapped myself in the scarf. It felt like a hug from Akshita, and it felt like a hug from Carlos, and it felt like a hug from Wiz. The first scarf had been a sign of Carlos’ love. This new one was a sign of something more. Not just Carlos, but also Wiz and Akshita were comforting me in my loss.

I imagine that the resurrection will feel something like the embrace of that scarf. We won’t be able to cling to worldly things anymore, but the comfort we crave from them will surround us in a new way. The tokens of friendship we’ve given and received while on Earth won’t follow us. Instead, the love represented by those souvenirs will enfold us in an infinite love far exceeding the comfort of worldly things.

On the last day, we won’t have to worry anymore about goodbyes and death and homelessness. On that day, as St. Paul writes, “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Carlos and Akshita and Wiz and I will all be together with Jesus. Until then, I’ll wrap myself in the scarf to try and get a foretaste.

-//-

Photos courtesy of the author.

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When COVID Cancelled My Plans, God Showed Up in A Scarf

On a bitterly cold Thursday night in February of 2019, I was sitting on the ground hanging out with a group of folks experiencing homelessness down by the Chicago Art Institute. I spent most Thursdays this way, as chaplain to the student-run Labre Homeless ministry. Despite the bitter cold, we laughed a lot. After a particularly icy burst of wind rushed through, one of the men, named Wiz, looked at me and said “Gimme a scarf.” The students always bring a bag of donations with them, so I looked toward the student holding the clothing and asked if she had a scarf.

“No,” Wiz corrected me, pointing at my neck, “I want that scarf.”

I froze and not because of the temperature.

The scarf I was wearing was not just any old piece of fabric, but a gift from one of my dearest friends. Carlos was a pivotal figure in my young adult life, sort of surrogate parent. He had picked up the scarf for me on a trip to Europe and asked about it every time I saw him. It had become a tangible sign of our deep friendship, a totem of his abiding love for me.

And Carlos was dying. A rare cancer diagnosis meant I wouldn’t have many more chances to see him, so at first I didn’t think I could give up the scarf. I needed that physical reminder of his presence. For thirty seconds, I wrestled with whether or not I could bear to lose it.

But Carlos had given it to me out of love, and I really loved Wiz. Maybe I didn’t need it as much as he did on that terribly cold night. Taking off the scarf, I handed it to him saying, “this was a gift from a really good friend. I need you to pray for him.”

Jake and Wiz and the scarf.

I took a photo of the two of us to send to Carlos.

When I returned to Chicago in August of 2019, I gathered again with the students from Labre. As we shared our summer vacation stories, Akshita, one of the student leaders, presented gifts to each of us. Turning to me, she said, “I know you gave away your scarf, so I got you a new one.”

I was taken aback by the gift, surprised that she had remembered. Only days before, I had been with Carlos back at his favorite bar in New York. He was getting noticeably weaker, so even thinking about him brought tears to my eyes. I examined the new scarf with slight trepidation. It wasn’t quite as warm as the one I had given Wiz, so I couldn’t wear it on the coldest nights. It’s beauty stunned me, though, bright reds and blues with a rainbow fringe.

It took a few weeks before this new scarf found a home in my room. First, I draped it over my desk chair, but it fell too frequently. It moved from my prayer chair, to my bed, and over the door, finally settling on a chair that didn’t get much use but was angled to show off the scarf’s colors. It became part of the furniture.

Then, just a few weeks into lockdown in Chicago, I got an early morning call. After months of anticipation, Carlos had died peacefully overnight. I was devastated, and spent much of the next few days crying. I had expected his death. What I hadn’t expected, though, was that I’d be stuck in quarantine when it happened.

As I watched him get sick, I had taken some comfort in planning out my trip to the funeral. I knew where I’d stay, and who I’d spend time with, and the Broadway show I’d try to see to cheer me up. Suddenly, everything was cancelled. There would be no public funeral, no gathering of close friends at his favorite bar, and certainly no therapeutic musical comedy. Instead, I’d mostly be stuck in my room remembering all he’d been for me.

The coronavirus destroyed my grief plans. 

I scrolled through old photos of us, and came upon the one of me and Wiz and the scarf. I started to cry again and began wiping my eyes. I realized with a jolt that I was using the scarf Akshita had given me.

So, the scarf became my grief plan.

As I prayed and mourned, I wrapped myself in the scarf. It felt like a hug from Akshita, and it felt like a hug from Carlos, and it felt like a hug from Wiz. The first scarf had been a sign of Carlos’ love. This new one was a sign of something more. Not just Carlos, but also Wiz and Akshita were comforting me in my loss.

I imagine that the resurrection will feel something like the embrace of that scarf. We won’t be able to cling to worldly things anymore, but the comfort we crave from them will surround us in a new way. The tokens of friendship we’ve given and received while on Earth won’t follow us. Instead, the love represented by those souvenirs will enfold us in an infinite love far exceeding the comfort of worldly things.

On the last day, we won’t have to worry anymore about goodbyes and death and homelessness. On that day, as St. Paul writes, “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Carlos and Akshita and Wiz and I will all be together with Jesus. Until then, I’ll wrap myself in the scarf to try and get a foretaste.

-//-

Photos courtesy of the author.

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Racism and White Supremacy | Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat

 

Welcome to Day 1 of Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat. My name is Ángel Flores Fontánez, and I’m with The Jesuit Post. In this series, we are journeying together into a deeper awareness of how racism operates in our lives, and how we can start to eradicate it. Today, we will discuss white supremacy and one important obstacle to overcome it. 

Let’s begin with a prayer. This is a traditional Jesuit prayer called the Prayer for Generosity. 

God, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve. To give and not to count the cost. To fight and not to heed the wounds. To toil and not to seek for rest. To labor and not to ask for any reward. Save that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.

In this first week, as in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we focus on sin and its consequences. In this case, the sin we focus on is racism. Racism is ultimately a set of policies, behaviors, and ideas that produce inequality based on race, and creates unjust advantages for a racial group at the expense of others. In the context of the U.S., racism has historically manifested as white supremacy.

We are proceeding with an understanding of white supremacy as a set of socio-political and economic policies, cultural practices, and ideas that ensure white domination and oppression of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities (BIPOC for short).1 People who contribute, intentionally or not, to this web of practices and policies are complicit in white supremacy.

White supremacy in the U.S. has a very long history. Some examples are: the stealing and territory occupation of lands belonging to Native Americans, their enslavement alongside African Americans, convict leasing of former slaves, segregation laws, lynching, immigration laws barring Asians and Latinos, colonialism against Pacific Islanders and Puerto Ricans, red lining of neighborhoods of Color in the Great Depression era, internment camps for Japanese American Citizens, mass incarceration, and police brutality, among many other policies. All of these have ensured the economic and social advantage of the white community. This advantage is what we call “white privilege,” and it manifests itself in that it is easier for a white person to: find a job and receive more pay while doing the same amount of work as BIPOC members, live in a good neighborhood, have access to generational wealth, and even the ease with which one can go jogging without fear.  This is a privilege Ahmaud Arbery did not have in February of 2020.

While Arbery was jogging in a predominantly white neighborhood, a former white police officer and his son, stopped Arbery based on racially biased suspicion, forcibly tried to detain him, and shot him to death when he resisted. I ask you: when was the last time you heard about a white man being suspected, detained, and killed for jogging through a neighborhood by a civilian? Even more, when was the last time you went out to jog and felt afraid that a neighbor could arrest and kill you? Not having to worry about this is one example of white privilege. 

One barrier to productive conversations about racism is something called “white fragility.” White fragility, refers to the defensiveness that white people practice when they are confronted with the topic of racism. Robin DiAngelo describes it as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” A person exercising white fragility takes as a personal attack any suggestion that she, a loved one, or her racial group, participates or has participated in racism against BIPOC members.

The person displaces the authentic suffering of BIPOC members to put their feelings of discomfort as the priority. This behavior perpetuates white supremacy, for it impedes any sincere discussion of the problem and prioritizes the comfort of those in the dominant group at the expense of the pain of BIPOC members. White fragility manifests in phrases like “I am not racist… I have friends of Color, I believe in equality, people of Color are too sensitive,” etc. Ultimately, what is sought is the avoidance of accountability.

A few years ago, I was participating in an annual meeting of Jesuits in formation. As part of the group-reflection exercise, we were instructed to meditate about some of the pastoral challenges in places where we minister, which includes most states of the Deep South, the country of Belize, and the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico. When my turn to speak came, I talked about how, according to recent media reports, white nationalism was growing in the places we minister, especially among young people. I also mentioned that one of the current leaders of the Ku Klux Klan was originally from the state we were in. I closed my intervention by saying that because of this data, along with recent anti-immigrant laws and imperial treatment of Puerto Rico, racism should be a main pastoral concern of our Jesuit province. To my disappointment, one of my white brothers started making physical gestures of indignation as I talked, and told me that I was being offensive to him and that I hurt him. All I had done was name an injustice that I felt we needed to address. He dismissed my point because addressing the topic made him feel attacked. 

As Christians, we are required by our faith to oppose racism in all its forms. In their 2018 Pastoral Letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” the U.S. Catholic Bishops said that the Church’s work to fight racism was part of the Christian duty to call society toward conversion, which includes “affecting” and sometimes “upsetting” the way people think. To this day, many people believe racism is only an intentional belief in the superiority of the white race. But as Bishop Joseph Seitz of El Paso wrote in 2019, racism in the U.S. is “about advancing, shoring up, and failing to oppose a system of white privilege.” So as long as white privilege is sustained by policies and behaviors, and also supported by white fragility, little or no progress toward the liberation of BIPOC members will be made. 

As you reflect more on these topics for the next 3 days, I recommend  the following reflection questions:

  1. How have you contributed to white supremacy?
  2. How has white privilege made your life easier in comparison with BIPOC members?
  3. Is white fragility preventing you from growth? How so?

In addition to these reflection questions, you can pray with the following Bible verses:

  1. Mark 7:24-30: Jesus, who we believe is the true God, but also walked earth as a true man that needed to learn step by step, receives a correction from a Syrophoenician woman, a person without the racial and gender privilege that he had as a Jewish man. Notice how well he receives the correction, and notice her bravery.
  2. Finally, consider praying with Luke 10:25-37: This is the classic story of the Good Samaritan. But this time, contemplate how the most privileged people in Jesus’s society were the ones who refused to help the victim. 

Let’s end with a prayer. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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Feeding the 5000: Feed Them Yourselves | One-Minute Homily

When Jesus tells his disciples to feed the 5000, it must have seemed like an impossible task. Martin Ngo, SJ, reflects on this command and the example that Jesus gives us to act with compassion. Based on the readings for Sunday, August 2, 2020.

Feed them myself?! Jesus, the world’s on fire! We can barely help ourselves!

Hey there! I’m Martin, and this is my One-Minute Reflection.

After his cousin’s death, Jesus retreats, but he’s followed by people like sheep without a shepherd. What happens next? He is moved with pity, and cures their sick on the spot. When his disciples are about to dismiss the hungry crowd, Jesus says, “Feed them yourselves.”

The message here is: Watch me. Let yourselves be nourished and moved by my deep compassion. Then, feeding others will make sense. Especially in these times, when daily demands don’t let up, it’s so easy to place more undue pressure on ourselves and get that much closer to burning out and lashing out.

There’s a subtle difference between the two questions: “What should I do?” vs. “Lord, what should I do?” Seek God first. Let God feed us and remind us of a love that cannot be separated from us through anguish or persecution, through life or death. Once we’re filled at the great banquet of Love, we can better feed others, even when the world is on fire.

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Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat

Also available as a podcast:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

Hi! My name is Ángel Flores Fontánez and I am with The Jesuit Post. 

Moved by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all other victims of racist police brutality in the past months, we present to you the “Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat.”

“Know Justice, Know Peace” is a four-week retreat hosted by The Jesuit Post that seeks to assist Christians in their growth as antiracist followers of Jesus. It will consist of twelve short talks published in the form of videos and podcasts on TJP’s media platforms. We hope these talks will be accompanied by inner self-reflection and prayer by those who wish to follow along. 

To Dismantle White Supremacy in Our Lives

As a Jesuit retreat, we will follow the basic structure of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and provide varied tools to the participant along the way from the Jesuit Spiritual Tradition. Week One focuses on Sin and its consequences, in this case the sin we are examining is racism and the consequences is the oppression of Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC for short). Week 2 focuses on what it means to be a follower of Jesus and how antiracism is a necessary component of such discipleship. Week 3 contemplated the passion and death of Jesus and how we can see this in the unnecessary suffering and violence towards BIPOC. Finally, Week 4 focuses on the Resurrection of Jesus and thus examines where we can find hope in the struggle towards becoming an anti-racist society. 

As an “Antiracist” retreat, we consider racism as a matter of White supremacy. It invites participants to focus on their relationship to white supremacy: how they are influenced by it in different ways or contribute to it, and how they can begin eradicating its causes. Because white supremacy is mainly perpetrated by people who are white or pass for white, this retreat is directed mostly towards them. However, people of color will also find this retreat beneficial.

Structure 

Each talk will be given by a Jesuit in formation, most of them members of Bellarmine House of Studies in St. Louis. The facilitators will

First, Explain some basic elements of white supremacy and racism, through personal experience or with historical examples.

Second, provide a Christian exhortation on how to a better antiracist

And Third, Offer questions and Bible verses for daily self-reflection and prayer during the month-long experience. 

The retreat will begin on  August 3rd and it will go on for four weeks. The talks will be published 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4 PM ET.

St. Ignatius counsels all at the beginning of a retreat to start with a sense of generosity and openness. As you embark on this retreat, we encourage you to center yourself in a love that lives in truth. Pray with those words of St Ignatius: “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” 

“Don’t Be Afraid”

Our hope at TJP is that this retreat will serve as an instrument of personal conversion for all those who participate in it. We are well aware that being antiracist is not accomplished in a one-month retreat. It is a lifelong process. But this might be the place where you, along with your friends and family can start that journey. As Jesuit Joseph Brown says, in order to grow, we must “face the brokenness” of racism.

So please, join us! What say you?

 

Works Cited:

Diangelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Boston Beacon, 2018.

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St. Ignatius of Loyola: A Saint for the Grateful | One-Minute Saints

It’s a funny thing to say, but let’s all be thankful for that cannonball.

Hi, my name is Brian Strassburger, and I’m with The Jesuit Post.

Growing up in the courts of Spain, St. Ignatius of Loyola underwent a profound conversion after he was, of all things, struck by a cannonball in battle. Saying goodbye to courtly life, Ignatius chose a different path, eventually founding the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits.

The center of Ignatius’s spirituality is the Spiritual Exercises, a retreat designed to help people grow in their personal relationship with God. Ignatius guides retreatants to reflect on their own sinfulness, but in light of God’s infinite love and mercy. We are sinners, loved by God.

And Ignatius taught us how to respond to God’s generous self-gift. Gratitude. As we contemplate all the ways that God is at work in our lives, we are moved to gratitude.

Let’s give thanks to God. Let’s give thanks to St. Ignatius. And let’s give thanks to that cannonball. God was even able to work through that.

So, St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.

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Catholic 101: Church Teaching and the Anti-Racism Movement

As the movement for racial justice has received greater media attention in the past few months, particularly since the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, MN, some Catholics may be wondering what to think about the anti-racist movement and how it fits into the Church’s mission. Let’s take a look at a few questions that some Catholics may be asking about the anti-racist movement and see where the Church’s teaching provides answers. 

What is racism? And what is the Catholic Church’s stance on it?

When defining racism, it is helpful to consider it in three of its forms, each recognized by the Church: a) racist ideas and theories, b) acts of racial discrimination, and c) systemic racism

  • A racist idea or theory is one that claims that a certain racial group is in some way superior or inferior to other racial groups. 
  • An act of racial discrimination is one in which a person or group of people are given some type of unjust treatment due to their race. 
  • Systemic or institutionalized racism refers to the occurrence of institutions and policies that have the purpose or effect of perpetuating or increasing racial inequity. 

While a racist idea or theory might explicitly or implicitly lead to an act of racial discrimination, sometimes racist theories and ideas have been created in order to justify pre-existing racist systems, as was the case with the Transatlantic African slave trade.

The Church considers all forms of racism—including racist ideas, acts of racial discrimination, and systematic racism—to be evil. Racism is evil because it violates the fundamental dignity of the human person who is made in the image and likeness of God, and it denies the unity of the human family. Racism has been denounced by numerous popes, including most recently Pope Francis. The U.S. bishops have written that racist actions are gravely and intrinsically evil—meaning that there is no situation in which they are not evil and completely unjustifiable. In 1999, St. John Paul II called on the United States “to put an end to every form of racism” and echoed the U.S. bishops’ belief that racism is “one of the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation.”

What does Catholic teaching have to say about “systemic racism”? How can an institution or a system be racist? Isn’t the problem racist people? 

While individual people being racist is indeed part of the problem, racism can also transcend the ideas and actions of individual people when those racist ideas or actions permeate a culture or become policies of institutions. Perhaps the most obvious 20th century examples of explicit systemic racism are South African apartheid and the Jim Crow laws in the U.S. South.

That being said, the Church recognizes that systemic racism also occurs through institutions and policies that do not explicitly refer to race yet are racist due to their effects. The U.S. bishops for example have repeatedly pointed to the ways systemic racism exists in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system. When we consider that racism is a grave injustice, the fact that it exists in our country in so many forms means that racism is an enormous problem in need of correction.

What about this idea of “implicit bias”? I don’t understand how I could be doing something racist when I’m not trying to be racist.  

Church doctrine provides helpful ways of understanding implicit bias. We talk in Catholic morality about the need to educate our consciences. The catechism states that educating our consciences “is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences” and that this education “is a lifelong task.” We need to work on developing our consciences, for we might be doing things that we do not even know are wrong and harmful to others. We may have erroneous judgments about our actions due to our ignorance. This does not mean we are evil people, but it does mean we need to learn more in order to change these harmful behaviors.

Since racist actions are sinful, everything in the above paragraph applies to it. A person might be doing racist things without even knowing that what they are doing is racist. They have been so shaped by the negative influences around them that they’ve been malformed to believe racist ideas without even fully realizing they believe them. Those ideas can flow into their words, their decisions, and their votes. Hence, “implicit bias” does not always remain or even begin at the personal level—it has systemic impacts as well. We could be supporting or remaining silent before racial injustice and systemic racism because we have not educated our consciences. Since this education is available to us, this support and silence could amount to sins of omission and complicity.

Therefore, if I hear that an idea, action, or policy is a racist one even though it doesn’t seem racist to me, as a morally responsible Catholic, I should be open to listening to and researching how racism might play a role in that idea, action, or policy. I need to engage in the task of educating my conscience.

What does it mean to be “anti-racist”? 

To understand the idea of “anti-racism,” it is helpful to consider what we as Catholics believe about the moral life. If I want to oppose sin and evil in my life, I do not merely “try not to sin.” I try to grow in virtue, and I try to actively oppose evil in society. Think of the problem of lying. If I frequently struggle with lying, simply saying, “Ok, I won’t be a liar anymore” is not enough. I need to regularly examine my conscience to see when I’m telling “white lies” when I did not even realize it. I need to grow in grace and virtue, and I need to practice telling the truth. 

But if I really am against lying, I will not just oppose it in myself. I will oppose it throughout society, because I know that lies often cause great harm in people’s lives. I will want to vote a lying politician out of office. If there are lies written into our laws, I will want those laws repealed and replaced with laws based on truth. Additionally, I will demand that the harm that resulted from those lies be acknowledged and repaired as completely as is possible. 

It is the same way with anti-racism. Anti-racism is not simply a commitment to saying, “I will not say or do racist things.” It is a combination of continually fighting racism within myself, practicing the actions of racial equity in my life, and fighting against the evil of racism in all of its forms within society—including seeking to bring about racial justice where racial injustice is present.

What would the Church say about reparations for past injustices, such as for slavery? Slavery ended 155 years ago in the United States. Why don’t we just try to treat everyone equally moving forward, and perhaps even place stronger laws in the books for that, instead of punishing people in the present for the sins of the past?  

Catholic theology not only supports but requires that injustices be remedied. For example, those who knowingly benefit from theft, even if they did not do the original stealing, “are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen.”

In other words, if I steal $1000 from my neighbor and give it to my child, and my child finds out later that the money was stolen, my child must return the money to its proper owner. My child will not need to be punished, such as receiving jail time—I will be—but my child must make restitution. After all, that $1000 could eventually have been passed down, as an inheritance, to my neighbor’s children.  And indeed, one of the reasons why the Catholic Church supports the right to private property (checked by the principle of the common good) is so that parents can pass down that property to their children through inheritance.

The fact that it has been 155 years since the end of slavery in the United States makes reparations for these injustices very complicated. The issue is further complicated by the history of government-supported housing segregation and a host of other racial injustices—both past and present. Our country’s brutal history with the Indigenous peoples of this land makes reparations to those communities very complicated, as well. But injustice being complicated does not mean it no longer needs to be rectified. The Church supports affirmative action programs and other creative attempts to find ways to make restitution for the damage done by racism. Again, according to Church teaching, reparation for injustices is not one moral option among many. It is a strict moral obligation

Even if I agree with the principles of anti-racism and justice, it seems like this will require a massive amount of effort from our country. Is this really worth it when there are so many other important issues? 

Indeed, the effort needed has been and will continue to be massive. As the U.S. bishops have written, racism is a “radical evil,” and the fight against it will require “an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society.” Our country will need to reconsider and reconstruct the way we portray American history. We will need to engage in that “lifelong task” of educating our consciences about the sin of racism. In order to meet the demands of justice, we will have to make significant reallocation of our country’s financial resources. We also will need to seek changes in the policies of our governments at every level, not to mention in so many other social institutions. 

The Catholic Church in the United States will need to do some serious self-examination about its own history and present policies, structures, and cultural norms, as well. The Church’s active participation in slavery and segregation was large-scale, and we have not fully addressed the injustices resulting from this participation. We have strong teachings and documents against racism, but as an institution we have failed to live up to them. Surely, fully addressing our history and its continuing effects will be a humbling but necessary process for U.S. Catholics. 

We also should remember that by recognizing injustices done to Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color, this necessarily includes injustices done to Black Catholics, Indigenous Catholics, and other Catholics of color. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that if we want to exercise Christian love toward others, we must first treat them with justice. If we do not treat even our own fellow Catholics justly, then we have not loved them—meaning we have not loved God (cf. 1 John 4:20-21). If the Church in the U.S. as a whole were to continue to ignore the injustices perpetuated upon its non-white members, it would be affirming that our Church’s fundamental teachings of justice do not apply to people who are not white. Such an affirmation and action would only increase in intensity this infected and self-inflicted wound of injustice on the Body of Christ. 

All of this work will be difficult, but the basic tenets of morality and justice require it. Discomfort, inconvenience, pain, and sacrifice are not reasons to back down from doing what is right. We follow Jesus, who told us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Taking up the cross leads to the resurrection, and that is what makes pain and sacrifice for the sake of truth, goodness, and justice unconditionally worth it.

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One Moment for One Thing: Take a Moment to Breathe

Awareness drives Ignatian Spirituality. Breathing is the fire that maintains the engagement of awareness in action. One needs God’s grace to learn how to breathe.

Once, I entered a deep spiritual dryness; I could not understand what was happening with my prayer life. It wasn’t until I concentrated more on my breathing that I realized I was unable to focus, I was distracted by external noises.

When we learn how to breathe, it helps us in our transformation, and connects us with Christ. To paraphrase Dr. Andrew Newberg, a scholar of neurotheology, breathing is a meaningful practice that helps us pay attention to our brain, and be aware of the complex works of the nervous system.

While we are called to be with Christ everywhere, he also invites us to stop and take a breath. When we stop, we can better pay attention to what is happening inside and outside of us, to stay in connected, grounded. In a study by UCLA professor, Dr. Jack Feldman, he noted that, “Each breath is like a new song with the same beat.” Our breathing can also be a prayer, a way to meet God who is at work in us.

How to Breathe

To learn how to breathe, I invite you to take the following steps:

  1. Breathe in deeply for four, breath out for six – try this three times;
  2. Try a silent breath, breathing normally and calmly, take in what’s around you – try this for one or two minutes;
  3. Take a careful, controlled breath, as if praying, as if breathing with Christ – try this for two or three minutes.

Today I would like to invite you to meet the best part of yourself through your breathing. Let us learn to breathe together for the greater glory of God!

-//-

Video Production by Matthew Bjorklund, S.J.

Front Page Photo by Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash

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Taylor Swift’s “folklore” Made Me Feel All the Things, and it’s Just What I Needed

I’ve been feeling, shall we say, wistful, lately. It’s 10:30 PM, and I’m sitting alone in my room. I just opened a second beer, and a third is already on my mind. I’m thinking about everything. The everything of today, with its pandemic, its confrontation with racism, its lack of leadership, certainty, and direction. The everything of the past, with the reality of lost love, of easier times, of contrition for all the mean things I ever said to the girl who sat in front of me in 4th grade. The everything of the future, whether I’ll live to 50 or 60 or 90, whether I’ll be happy as a priest, whether anything today will change for the better.

All of this – these beers, this nostalgia, this wishful thinking, this fear, this anticipation – is prompted by one thing: Taylor Swift’s newest album, folklore.

To be clear: I love both pop music and country music. Jessie J, Carly Rae Jepson, The 1975, and Justin Timberlake make my playlists. I know the words to many, many songs by George Strait, Vince Gill, Sara Evans, Rascal Flatts, and Brad Paisley. By that record, it makes sense that I love Taylor Swift, who in her 14 years of making hit albums, has dominated both genres. And as a friend mentioned last night, Taylor Swift creates culture; she is not created by it.

Yet, it’s not my love of pop or country –  not even my love of Taylor Swift –  that makes me love what I hear on folklore. Rather, it’s a love born out of a need for wistfulness during these difficult times, a need to feel remorse and longing, defiance and a sense of being utterly lost, a need to be found and a need to rediscover myself. 

The album starts with surprising soul and less-than-subtle sadness. The opening track, “the 1,” embraces the self-transformation heartbreak can offer, but also the lingering sense of what could have been: “…if you never bleed, you’re never going to grow…but it would have been fun if you would’ve been the one…” In “cardigan,” we confront the reality that we use others, and have been used by others. In the Sufjan Stevens-esque “the last great american dynasty,” we feel with ferocity the pain of being cast as something different than how we see ourselves. In “exile,” a beautiful duet with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (a fellow Wisconsinite), we are reminded that when relationships change, many things change with them, and sometimes with lightning speed, we can feel out of place. Closing this first movement of the album is ‘my tears ricochet,’ which is a reminder that even in our pain, we are powerful. These first songs are rife with regret which, for me, serve as a welcome invitation to consider my own past mistakes.

“mirrorball” marks a shift in the record and sets a second movement. This time more centered around the theme of reclamation. There is an invitation to let go of old ways and chart a new path. In “august,” this involves accepting what wasn’t ultimately true about the past: “August slipped away like a bottle of wine, ‘cause you were never mine.” In “this is me trying,” she asks to be seen for who she is and what she’s working on: “I just wanted you to know that this is me trying.” And, in “illicit affairs,” a realization that old ways to find meaning and feeling don’t work anymore. Now is the time for something new: “And that’s the thing about illicit affairs…they lie and lie and lie a million little times…” 

This exploration of regret and reclamation makes room for the final movement of the album as I see it: relinquishment and resolve. First, in ‘invisible string,’ she sees that time has the power to heal, and something has bent her toward someone she didn’t realize she was connected to all along: “Time, wondrous time gave me the blues and then purple-pink skies…and isn’t it just so pretty to think all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?” In “mad woman,” she owns a certain part of herself and accepts that every challenge she faced wasn’t her own doing. She describes the relief that brings in “epiphany,” and in “betty,” learns to ask forgiveness for the things that she has done wrong: “The worst thing I ever did is what I did to you…but if I just showed up at your party, would you have me? Would you want me?” 

Drawing the album near a close in “peace,” she names her own strength and hopes that it might be enough: “But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm…would it be enough If I could never give you peace?” She knows in this song that she is a person in perpetual motion, a person for whom the ups and downs of life are inevitable, and a person who simply wants to be seen and loved. Who among us doesn’t want that? And finally, in “hoax,” she seems to be ready to accept the imperfection of life, and ask whether anyone will simply walk into that imperfection with her. 

From regret to reclamation, relinquishment to resolve. There is a movement in this work that may be a projection on my part; it may be that my experience of this album is colored by what I needed at this very moment. But, isn’t that what great music does? It offers something to everyone, whether that something is clear and  intended, or vague and  misunderstood. One thing is for certain: this album should – must – be remembered as something more than a quarantine project by a global superstar with tremendous help from other musical powerhouses (Bon Iver, Jack Antonoff, and Aaron Dessner’s influence is clear and palpable). Further, it’s more than Taylor Swift’s ‘indie’ effort. It is, in a word, brave – it faces the tone of lament and longing heroically. Without resolving to a brighter, poppier version of the Taylor Swift we know, it leaves me with a sense of hope.

For my part, I’d pay attention to what Swift has called the “Teenage Love Triangle” songs: “cardigan,” “august,” and “betty.” The sequence reveals yet again Swift’s ability as a masterful storyteller. Pay attention also to the geography of the lyrics, and use them to recall your own sacred places and haunted houses. Even ponder the album cover, which shows Swift standing miniscule in the midst of hundreds-of-years-old trees.

Ultimately, these aren’t anthems or sing-along-songs. These aren’t really tracks to be memorized in the way we might memorize “Love Story” or “Shake It Off.” In the midst of the hot summer, a terrible year, and so much uncertainty, I suggest that you let this album do something that transcends even Taylor Swift. Let  it make you feel something and, maybe, come alive again. It is both an escape and a confrontation, and for that, will undoubtedly serve as a good guide for me these days.

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Longing to be: “Hamilton” and the Legacy of an Immigrant

On July 17th, 2010, a plane from Taipei landed in LAX. I was one of four immigrants among the passengers were waiting to make their very first steps on the (cemented) soil of America. I felt confusion and emptiness. There was a lingering question, “What am I going to be?”

Maybe that’s the same question that Alexander Hamilton asked himself when he first arrived on a ship to New York City? The legacy he received from his parents was a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman.” In New York City, Hamilton was given the chance to build a new life. Underneath that determination was something else that penetrated deeply into his identity as an immigrant: a longing to be accepted for who he was.

Coming up from the bottom

What makes immigrants different from native-born people? In my experience, I think it’s about the relationships I had back home in Vietnam. My identity was tied up in my friends and family I had to leave behind.  On the day I left Vietnam, I felt like I lost a part of who I was. What could I do? I could try to preserve my identity by rejecting anything new and staying close to those who would give me a sense of security. Or, I could take the risk of losing my old identity to begin a new one. For Hamilton, with his mediocre background, there was nothing to lose. “In New York, you can be a new man.” 

Throwing away the shot

After I arrived in America, everything was new and unfamiliar. People looked at me like an alien. I tried to communicate with others but we hardly understood each other because of the differences in language, culture, and ways of thinking. They mentioned TV shows, actors, basketball players, etc. and I had no idea who or what they were talking about.  Usually, I simply smiled and pretended that I  knew so they didn’t feel awkward or offended. There was a wall preventing me from connecting with others, a wall that I wanted to break by any means. I wanted to prove myself, be recognized, and accepted by others. 

“I am not throwing away my shot!” also could mean “I am not wasting my life!” Ironically, to build his legacy, Hamilton continually threw himself into uncharted water. He was on the front line fighting the British, and he eventually became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. He threw himself onto the (political) front line in fighting the oppositional ideology from the South. Indeed, by placing himself in dangerous confrontations and coming out victorious, he built a legacy for himself. But at what price?

Never Satisfied

Some people are fortunate to be born with a legacy of their family. Yet, as an immigrant, I had to begin from scratch. Often, when I first meet somebody and start a conversation, one of the questions that pops up is, “where are you from?” For some people, it’s a simple question to get to know the other better. But for an immigrant, it can feel like an act of suppression for a few reasons. First, it creates a wall within my mind, I feel marked as an outsider. Secondly, it creates a sense of embarrassment because of my background. I feel a sense of shame in having to leave my homeland. Thirdly, it stirs up a desire to be accepted and recognized. 

Angelica asked Hamilton about his family (his legacy), and rather than giving a straight answer, he implied that he would create a legacy for himself. “I have never been satisfied,” Hamilton told Angelica. Hamilton wants to run away from his past, his ”legacy” as an “orphan,” “son of a whore,” and “penniless man.” As a result, he used his talents and wits to climb the social ladder. And he was never satisfied. This came at a price. It was not his affair that cost him his reputation, hurt those who love him, destroyed his career as a politician, and lastly, contributed to his son’s death. The price he had to pay was never being satisfied.

What is a legacy?

In 2016, I entered the Jesuit Novitiate of the Three Companions in Culver City, CA.  That decision committed me to taking on a new identity.  I desired to be accepted and recognized by the “American people” I was serving as a Jesuit.  Many times, I tried and failed to impress others, to prove myself, to understand them, and to be understood despite my limitations in language and cultural experience. I don’t feel I’ve had quite as much success as Hamilton, yet I’ve realized something Hamilton could not until late in life. It happened when a brother novice saw me struggling with my English. As I was trying to explain myself, he stopped me and said, “It’s okay. You don’t have to try. We love you for who you are.” That moment changed my life forever.

“What is a legacy?” Hamilton asked himself. One can see Hamilton’s legacies in the freedom we enjoy in the United States. Or in the great banking system that brought prosperity to a newfound country.  Or in the fact that he is our “$10 Founding Father.” As for me, I see his greatest legacy in the people who loved him in midst of both success and failure. 

The hardest part of immigrating to the United States was leaving the ones I love. As it turns out, new loving relationships are the greatest gift I’ve received in my new home. And Hamilton reminded me that love is the greatest legacy any person can leave behind.

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The Pearl of Great Price: Our Gift of Faith | One-Minute Homily

If you could have one wish, what would it be? Ian Peoples, SJ, reflects on the gift of faith and the pearl of great price mentioned in today’s Gospel. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 26.

If you were granted one wish, what would you ask for?

Hi, I’m Ian Peoples and this is my One-Minute Reflection.

We’ve all seen the movies where someone is granted three wishes by some magical genie: the Disney classic Aladdin, or the more devilish “Bedazzled.” These movies have made me think about what I would ask for.

My answers have changed somewhat over the years. When I was a kid, I probably would have wished to become a pro soccer player. As I got older, that wished changed to having unlimited knowledge (the desire behind original sin). But on a retreat a few years ago, I realized that I wanted the pearl of great price.

And that pearl is Jesus.

As Christians, we are taught that faith is not merely a choice. It is first and foremost a gift. We who strive to know, love and serve Christ do so because God has invited us into a relationship. Just God grants Solomon’s request for wisdom and understanding in order to serve his people, we have been granted faith in Jesus Christ, who is wisdom Incarnate, so that we can faithfully serve others.

What gift do you want to ask God for today?

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Too Much News? Reconsidering Our Relationship with the Media

2020 feels like a bad car wreck- I want to look away but can’t take my eyes off it. We read the morning paper, scroll through Twitter, and watch the nightly news. Knowing what’s going on in the world makes us well-informed citizens and allows us to bring the needs of the world to God in prayer and at Mass. 

So why do we feel so bad? Of course, most of the news is negative, but the problem is deeper than that. News fatigue is a phenomenon recognized by mental health experts, yet little attention has been given to its spiritual implications. If you’re like me, it’s time to reconsider our relationship with the media and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius can help.

The heart of Ignatian spirituality is the belief that God is everywhere. God is always working in our lives and in the world, and we need only need to take time to notice and respond. The work of faith is to learn what is happening in the world so that we can engage, pray, find God, and serve better. 

Pretending bad news doesn’t exist or focusing solely on the positive risks denying the incarnational reality that Christ is present always and everywhere, even our suffering. Keeping up with the world makes us better citizens, helps us to pray, and encourages us to respond with faith and love. So where do we draw the line? To know what to do, we must first remember who we are.

St. Ignatius begins the Spiritual Exercises with something called “The First Principle and Foundation” which expresses our deepest identity and mission as human beings. God loved us into being as His own children. We are created with purpose and the goal of life is to praise, reverence, and serve God in our own unique ways on earth until we share eternal life with him in heaven. Lest we think this is too abstract or complicated, the saints have taught us what this means. St. Irenaeus said “the glory of God is the human person fully alive”. God wants you to be fully alive, authentically yourself, and doing so brings God great glory. Pope St. John Paul II said that to become a saint is to “become who you are”. 

Because God made us from pure love and with specific purpose, everything matters. All created things on earth are gifts from God to us and have their place in the order of creation. Everything exists for us, that we may become who we are and accomplish our mission. How we use God’s gifts matters. Faith begins with gratitude for all God’s gifts and uses them insofar as they help us in our life with God. St. Ignatius’s point is often summarized as “tantum quantum” (Latin for ‘insofar as’) because that is our measuring tool for discernment. 

We are to keep things in our lives and use them when they bring us closer to God and each other, but let them go if they become an obstacle to love of God and neighbor. The genius of the tantum quantum is that it accounts for complexity between people, and diversity of situations. Each of us is unique, and is given our own missions from God. So what helps one person in her life with God may not be the same for someone else.

Each of us must apply the tantum quantum to our own relationship with the media. The news and even some social media can be a great way to stay informed with current events and keep up with family and friends. Insofar as that makes me a better son of God (leads me to deeper faith, hope, and love) then it helps me in my life mission. But insofar as it causes anxiety, or intrudes on quality dinner conversations, or keeps me up late at night scrolling, then it hinders me in my life mission. God created us to be free, joyful, and generous. Ignoring the world is not an option, but we can decide how we engage it. 

We cannot simply condemn the problems of the media or celebrate its benefits. Each person must prayerfully consider how the media, like all created things, is a gift from God that can be a source of life or an obstacle to overcome. 

Step 1: Invite the Holy Spirit to lead you in this time of prayer.

Step 2: Ask for openness to be guided and even challenged by God’s love.

Step 3: Examine your life with God using these questions:

     – Who has God created me to be? (As his beloved daughter/son)
     – What is/are my mission(s)? (At work, family, friendships, etc.)
     – How much time do I spend watching/reading the news? How is it helping me in my missions from God?
     – How much time do I spend on social media? Why do I check social media? Is it to stay connected or am I looking for something more?
     – How do I feel when I engage the media? Do I feel satisfied at the deepest level? Am I more inclined to faith, hope and love?
     – Does the media make me a better, more prayerful, more generous person?
     – How can I adapt my media habits so that it helps me toward the end for which I am created?

Step 4: Remember prayer is a dialogue between friends. Listen, and ask “God, how are you calling me to engage with the media?” 

Step 5: Conclude with an Our Father.

Let us be patient and generous with one another as we all engage the world in our own ways. We are united as one human family, so let us encourage one another in faith that God is always at work, especially in the darkness. We thank God for the gift of the media and ask that it inspire our prayers and bring us closer to God and one another.

-//-

Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels

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What ‘Words with Friends’ Has Taught Me About Loss and Hope

My Jesuit community engaged in COVID-19 protocols after Mass on March 16. No more all-community Masses. No more going to school for class. No more ministry. A world of masks and gloves and handwashing. That evening, a friend and I had a conversation thinking through ways we could try to make the most of the indefinite future that came with pandemic. One of our solutions: Words with Friends. Hopped-up Internet scrabble. I downloaded the app and away we went.

That first night, a random person – Kendra – challenged me to a game, and I accepted. Two days later, another – Holly. Again, I obliged. Thus began two epic streaks of back and forth play. So long as either person makes at least one move a day, the streak continues. When one game ends, one or the other re-challenges, and on…and on…and on. 20 days. 30 days. 50 days. 100 days. 

Once, Holly and I went 22 hours without a move, almost destroying the streak we had built. Once, I played the word ‘quip’ against Kendra for 111 points, and once she played ‘jeeps’ against me for 133 points. These moments became milestones and marked both the commitment we had to our project, but also the very number of days the pandemic dragged on.

July 1st marked 107 days for Kendra and me. I don’t know how it happened or why, but we ended a game that day, and another one didn’t start. Just like that, Kendra was gone.

***

Pandemic has brought with it many struggles big and small, singular and systemic. But, there have also been surprising gifts. At the height of my stay-at-home, I remember one weekend where I jumped on a happy hour with a friend’s family in Omaha. That evening, a call with high school buddies who lived in Madison and Green Bay, but also Australia and China. I topped off the evening with some Jesuit friends only dozens of yards away in different buildings, but through my computer screen. The next afternoon, another call with college buddies, and yet another with my three oldest friends. All of these calls were filled with updates on COVID in their parts of the world, recollections of simpler and wilder days, questions about what it means to lead, tough and important conversations about racism and police brutality, daydreams about how things can be different. Many, many words with friends.

Eventually, those kinds of weekends stopped. Things opened up around the country, and people started hanging out in person again. Now, there’s an occasional happy hour or late-night chat, but not every week, and not with as many people. We’ve either become a bit complacent to the world of COVID-19, or we’ve lost some energy to keep up, going back to the more typical way of touching base less frequently. The love and desire for companionship remains, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be that way forever.

***

Holly and I have kept it going – a 127-day streak as of this publication. There have been successes during these dark days. When Kendra went missing, I felt an emptiness – a part of light and life and love I felt during these unusual and devastating times had left me. I wondered – was Kendra sick? Taking extra shifts to make some much-needed money? Tired of Words with Friends? Tired of me?

Loss and lament can come quickly. The uncertainty of our world leaves many struggling, and many others anxious, defiant, tired, careless, nostalgic about easier times, hopeful for better days ahead.

For a while, I felt closer to the people I love than I had in years. Now, I guess I’m feeling sad about the new ‘new normal,’ a world where I can’t be with the people I love in person, and where I can’t reach them at the drop of a hat. A world where sickness and fear run rampant, and we aren’t rising to the challenge in the same way. Yet, the pandemic continues. The streak survives. 

***

Just three days ago, a new challenge popped up in Words with Friends – Kendra was back. Relieved, I accepted. The first word played was ‘light.’ When all seems lost, perhaps we need a moment to rest in the darkness. But then, by chance or by grace, we begin again. 

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St. Mary Magdalene: Saint for the Broken Hearted | One-Minute Saints

Mary Magdalene was a close friend of Jesus and deeply felt the heartbreak of his death. If you have ever lost a friend or felt heartbroken, Mary Magdalene is the saint for you. Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ, reflects on the Feast of Mary Magdalene, friend and disciple of Jesus.

Have you ever had your heart broken? Maybe you’ve lost someone you love. If so, then Mary Magdalene is a patron saint for you. Mary Magdalene was a close friend of Jesus. He came to her house for dinner. He raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. And she stayed with Jesus all the way to the cross.

On Easter Sunday, She is the first one to arrive at the tomb of Jesus. Incredibly, his body is not there. As she weeps, The Risen Jesus appears to her. She doesn’t recognize him at first — until he calls her name: Mary. Then, she embraces him, uniting her broken heart to His Sacred Heart

If your heart is broken, and needs healing, then offer your heart to His Sacred Heart. 

St Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

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St. Mary Magdalene: Saint for the Broken Hearted | One-Minute Saints

Mary Magdalene was a close friend of Jesus and deeply felt the heartbreak of his death. If you have ever lost a friend or felt heartbroken, Mary Magdalene is the saint for you. Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ, reflects on the Feast of Mary Magdalene, friend and disciple of Jesus.

Have you ever had your heart broken? Maybe you’ve lost someone you love. If so, then Mary Magdalene is a patron saint for you. Mary Magdalene was a close friend of Jesus. He came to her house for dinner. He raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. And she stayed with Jesus all the way to the cross.

On Easter Sunday, She is the first one to arrive at the tomb of Jesus. Incredibly, his body is not there. As she weeps, The Risen Jesus appears to her. She doesn’t recognize him at first — until he calls her name: Mary. Then, she embraces him, uniting her broken heart to His Sacred Heart

If your heart is broken, and needs healing, then offer your heart to His Sacred Heart. 

St Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

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The Hole Left Behind by John Lewis

John Lewis. He crossed many bridges in his life. On Friday, he crossed the final one.

On July 17, 2020, with the death of John Robert Lewis, the U.S. Congress lost its conscience. This legend was the youngest man to speak at the March on Washington next to Dr. King in 1963, and he served seventeen terms in Congress. He was an outstanding model of nonviolent resistance, a Freedom Rider, and an artisan of peace. He called for more than change; he challenged us to love.

Born in 1940, Lewis grew up in the Black Belt town of Troy, a rural town in Alabama, fifty miles from Montgomery. His mother and father were sharecroppers, and he used to spend his Sundays with his grandmother, who was born a slave. 

As a boy, Lewis heard many stories about lynchings. He was only four months old when Jesse Thornton was lynched just down the road from his house. Thornton was a popular man, the manager of a local chicken farm, where Lewis would later work himself.

But conversations about segregation and discrimination were frequent among his family members. Lewis would ask his father, his mother, his grandparents, and great-grandparents, “Why?” Their replies were disturbingly consistent, “That’s just the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get into trouble.” Later in his life, Lewis will offer his response: if you are going to get in trouble, “get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Then, in 1955, at fifteen years old, he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio, preaching about peace, nonviolence, and reconciliation.

Redemptive Suffering

Protestors and police officers face off in Selma, Ala., March 7, 1965, in what’s come to be know by civil rights activists as Bloody Sunday. The iconic photo is part of a documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble” about the longtime racial equality activist and member of Congress. (CNS photo/courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

By 1960 he had joined King’s movement in the fight for freedom, jobs, justice, equality, equity, and human rights of Black people, including the battle for the Voting Rights Act. He brought with him the discipline of “redemptive suffering,” which he had learned from the Rev. James Lawson. Lawson taught many students the principles of nonviolent resistance, principles which had originated with Mahatma Gandhi.

The discipline Lawson taught Lewis helped him learn that love could never be an empty sentiment. In the face of discrimination and racism, Lewis said that we have to remember that love remains steadfast. 

For Lewis, we must be brave, calm, patient to be able to see our aggressors, our oppressors, with a peaceful imagination. Look them in the eye and remember that, some years ago, this person was a child. Someone innocent. Look them in the eye and ask yourself, what must have happened? Had someone taught them how to hate, in the intervening years? 

Remember, hate is a heavy burden to bear. Look them in the eyes and don’t ever give up. Never give up on anyone. This is the kind of steadfastness love requires. 

In order to practice this steadfastness, Lawson’s group would engage in role play. Lewis used to call it the “social drama.” This role play involved going through scenarios to practice reacting to aggression. What if someone were to call you names? What if someone were to spit at you or kick you? Lewis said you had to go through motions to prepare yourself to respond with love instead of violence. This response required practice.

And the practice, for him, worked. He remained steadfast on Bloody Sunday, during the Selma to Montgomery marches, despite terrifying threats. In his memoir, Walking With the Wind, Lewis wrote that they were walking down the street, and “…then, out of nowhere, from every direction, came people. White people. Men, women and children. Dozens of them. Hundreds of them. Out of alleys, out of side streets, around the corners of office buildings, they emerged from everywhere, from all directions, all at once, as if they’d been let out of a gate. They carried every makeshift weapon imaginable. Baseball bats, wooden boards, bricks, chains, tire irons, pipes, even garden tools—hoes and rakes. One group had women in front, their faces twisted in anger, screaming, ‘Git them n***ers, GIT them n***ers!’…. and now they turned to us, this sea of people, more than three hundred of them, shouting and screaming, men swinging fists and weapons, women swinging heavy purses, little children clawing with their fingernails at the faces of anyone they could reach.” He was beaten until he fell unconscious. He reflected back, “I thought I was going to die.

But he saw something in these experiences that was liberating, cleansing, redemptive. Something that might open a person to a higher power, a force that is right and moral. The force of righteous truth that is the basis of human conscience. A force that is described as a true quest for freedom, as a true love in action. “Freedom is not a state; it is an act [of love].”  

Despite the lynchings of his youth, the recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more, Lewis’s message remains one of hope. Never despair. Have faith and pray.

The death of John Lewis will leave a big hole behind. But his name will be remembered. His commitment to justice through love and nonviolence remains instructive for us all, something to which we might aspire. America lost its soul. The Black Community mourns a wisdom figure. Congress will forever miss him. 

John Lewis. He crossed many bridges. Let us build more bridges in his memory.

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A Catholic Case for Carbon Tax

“It doesn’t take a hurricane to cause flooding in Miami anymore. In fact, it doesn’t even take a gust of wind.” According to a report in the Washington Post, king tides have been taking a toll on Miami for a number of years, but rising sea levels have made it worse in recent times due to man-made climate change.

As Catholics, we care about climate change because Catholic Social Teaching exhorts us to care for God’s creation, and to make a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. A more extreme climate threatens lives and livelihoods through hurricanes, droughts, famines, and rising sea levels. Furthermore, poor countries that are low emitters of carbon suffer the most severe consequences of climate change. Pope Francis has repeatedly called on Catholics to care for our common home, most famously through the encyclical Laudato Si’. How can we respond to this integral teaching of the Catholic faith?

In principle, everyone can reduce their carbon footprint by changing their consumption habits or food choices. I applaud people who have modified their lifestyles and sacrificed physical comforts for the sake of the environment. However, change in the lives of a few generous individuals is insufficient to stem the tide of climate change. We urgently need economic incentives on a global scale to drive the rapid change in consumption habits in order to avoid crossing the point of no return in climate change. In the battle against climate change, time is of the essence. 

As we examine our consumption, we need an economic system that accounts for the true cost of resources. The price paid for products is not the actual cost of the product. Often, environmental damage during production, or the cost of disposal is excluded from the actual price of the product. Economists call these costs “negative externalities.” 

For example, the $2/gal price of gas includes the cost of extracting and refining oil and the profit margin of the oil company. It does not include the damage that burning gas causes to the environment, or the healthcare costs of those affected by air pollution. Further, if the carbon emission from burning gas leads to more hurricanes in Florida through climate change, the cost to rebuild homes in Florida is not included in the price of gas. In other words, the environmental costs are paid by those who suffer because of climate change, irrespective of their individual contribution to causing hurricanes through carbon emissions. 

One way to address negative externalities is to add a surcharge, known as a Pigouvian Tax or Subsidy, to these products. The surcharge would have two effects: 1. It would disincentivize the undesirable activity (e.g. discourage driving) and 2. It would generate revenue from producers and consumers to address the negative effects such as pollution.

The term tax is anathema to many Americans, but this is not a tax in the usual sense because it is not a means for the government to raise funds, but merely a way to ensure that consumers of a certain product pay the full cost of that product without expecting third-parties or the broader community to bear the cost of the externality.

The money collected through a Pigouvian Tax on a product could be used in three ways. First, it could be used to clean up or reduce the damage caused by the use of the product. In the case of gasoline, we can use the money to fund tree planting programs, or to fund research in carbon capture technologies, or to fund FEMA to rebuild after hurricanes.

Second, the money from a Pigouvian tax on carbon could be used to facilitate reduction in transportation carbon emissions. More extensive public transportation, well connected bike lane systems, and walkable city neighborhoods are some ways that can ease our transition into a low carbon society.

The third way of using the money from such taxes is to distribute the money equally between all residents. This is a popular option because citizens dislike the idea of the government collecting and spending more money. 

For example, if the US were to charge a $1 fee for every gallon of gas sold in the country, the government might collect about $142 billion per year. Dividing this money equally between all residents in the US would result in a gasoline dividend check of $430 annually per person. Note that someone driving a truck 50 miles a day would pay more than $430 into the system, while someone driving occasionally would pay much less. Thus, the person with a truck may decide to drive a more fuel efficient vehicle or take public transportation. On the other hand, the person who receives more than what she was taxed can spend the money as she wishes. But, based on the economic disincentive of high gas prices, she would not buy a truck. Thus, over a period of time, the proportion of fuel efficient vehicles will increase, with a resulting decrease in overall carbon emissions. This change in driving habits will lower the total consumption of gas in the US resulting in a smaller dividend check as well.

A similar Pigouvian Tax and Dividend on carbon (not only on gasoline, but all carbon emission) has already been implemented to good effect in Canada. With a price of $14 per tonne across Canada, residents received about $200 per person in rebates. My friend Nishant and his wife, residents of Toronto, received a rebate of $360 last year. The money from the rebate can be used to cover the increased price of gas or to purchase more things. But consumers will likely move away from things that are now more expensive due to carbon taxes. Instead, they may spend the money on eco-friendly products less affected by carbon taxes.

The idea of putting a cost on negative externalities can be expanded beyond carbon emissions. For instance, the meat industry could be charged for polluting rivers. Coal power plants could be made to pay for the adverse health effects of particulate emissions. The price of plastics could include the cost of cleaning our waterways from disposal of these products. We need to make industries pay for the mess they generate. 

Putting a price on carbon and pollution is not the only way to inspire care for creation. As Catholics, we are called to care for creation because God invites us to do so. Further, we are morally obliged to examine our actions that harm fellow humans. However, we are living the tragedy of the commons when it comes to climate change, where despite repeated warnings of an impending climate crisis, we behave in a business as usual manner. In this situation, carbon taxes are a nudge to change our lifestyle. Perhaps, we may actually enjoy living a low carbon lifestyle, and will find the carbon dividend check a welcome bonus.

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